EurObserv'ER report: biofuel consumption growth slows in Europe

By Erin Voegele | July 31, 2012

EurObserv’ER has released its annual Biofuels Barometer report, showing that growth in biofuel consumption in the 27 EU member states decreased in 2011. According to the report, European Union governments no longer seem to view rapid increases in biofuel consumption as a priority. Rather, attention has shifted to the development of sustainability systems to verify that biofuel that is used complies with the Renewable Energy Directive’s sustainability criteria.

Statistics published by the EurObserv’ER clearly indicates that growth in consumption was down sharply last year. The report states that biofuel consumption grew by only 3 percent from 2010 to 2011. That is down from the 10.7 percent growth recorded between 2009 and 2010, the 24.6 percent growth achieved from 2008 to 2009, and the 41.7 percent jump between 2007 and 2008. The 3 percent growth recorded last year translates into approximately 13.6 million metric tons of oil equivalent.

According to the report, only six European countries elected to increase the blend rate of biofuels between 2010 and 2011, including Finland, Poland, Spain, Bulgaria, the Netherlands and Denmark. Biodiesel has remained the primary biofuel used in Europe, with a 78 percent market share, while ethanol comprises 21 percent. Biogas was also used as an alternative transportation fuel in 2011. The report states that 0.5 percent of the biofuel used in Europe that year was biogas. All of that usage took place in Sweden. Approximately 13 percent of the biofuel used in Sweden last year was classified as “other biofuel,” the category that includes biogas.

While ethanol use continued to trail biodiesel use in 2011, it did grow at a faster rate. E10 sales accounted for 90 percent of the unleaded gasoline sales last year. Ethanol consumption grew by 6.2 percent, compared to a 2.4 percent growth rate for biodiesel.

The Biofuel Barometer also highlights second-generation biofuel investments made by Abengoa Bioenergy, Europe’s largest biofuel producer. The company recently built a commercially-viable cellulosic ethanol plant in Babilafuente, Spain. The 5 million liter (1.32 million gallon) plant is designed to produce 250 liters (66 gallon) of ethanol from a single metric ton of straw.  A second cellulosic ethanol facility is under development in Hugoton, Kan. That facility has a design capacity of 100 million liters (26.4 million gallons), and is scheduled to begin production in mid-2013. Abengoa is also working to develop algae-based fuels, and began operation of a pilot-scale algae project earlier this year.

EurObserv’ER indicates in its analysis that growth in European biofuel consumption should regain traction during the second half of the decade, particularly with second-generation biofuels.